The Music Modernization Act Passes the House and Includes the CLASSICS Act

MMA House Judiciary Tamera Bennett #createprotect.jpg

Patrick Lewis contributed to this post.

The Music Modernization Act

The Music Modernization Act - HR 5477 (the “MMA Legislation”) unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives on April 25, 2018. The MMA legislation now moves to the Senate for review and hearings. 

The MMA Legislation unifies and serves as an umbrella for four previously introduced bills—the Allocation for Music Producers (AMP) Act, the CLASSICS Act, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, and a songwriter-specific version of the Music Modernization Act. The goal is to overhaul the U.S. Copyright Act in relation to music licensing and fair compensation. It’s a joint effort of music publishers, songwriters, artists, record labels, radio, digital services, producers, and engineers to reach a workable solution for content owners and content users.


(Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, & Important Contributions to Society Act Title II, Sections 201-203, Chpt. 14)

Most importantly to me, the CLASSICS Act, which I authored, is included in this package. It corrects a decades old injustice through which performers have been arbitrarily deprived of royalties on songs recorded prior to 1972.
— IP Subcommittee Chairman Darrall Issa - House Judiciary Committee Press Release, April 25, 2018

Sound recordings were not protected by Federal Copyright Law in the United States until February 15, 1972 (Pre-72 Sound Recordings). There's a hodge-podge of state copyright laws that artists and record labels use to fight bootleg recordings and piracy of those legacy recordings.

The Problem Pre-72 Sound Recording Artists and Copyright Owners Face:

A new issue arose for artists and sound recording copyright owners when digital services such as Spotify, SiriusXM, and Pandora announced they would not pay digital sound recording public performance royalties for the performance of Pre-72 Sound Recordings. State law litigation related to public performance rights for Pre-72 Sound Recordings has resulted in a split in the courts based on how each state interprets their own common law or statutory laws. Some states find there is a digital public performance right and others not.

Goal of the CLASSICS Act:

If the MMA Legislation becomes law, Title II, Sections 201-203, Chapter 14, which encompasses the CLASSICS Act, will pull Pre-72 Sound Recording copyrights under the protection of federal copyright law for purposes of digital public performance of sound recordings.  Digital music services like Spotify, SiriusXM, and Pandora will have to pay to perform sound recordings fixed on or after January 1, 1923, and before February 15, 1972.

The MMA Legislation applies the same analysis used for Post-72 sound recordings to determine if the performance of a Pre-72 Sound Recording is interactive or non-interactive and whether or not the statutory digital transmission license is applicable to the performance. The MMA Legislation grants Pre-72 Sound Recordings the same safe harbors as post-1972 recordings: protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Copyright Filings and Damages for Infringements:

A requirement to open the federal court house doors for a copyright infringement claim is a U.S. Copyright Registration (or in some circuits proof of filing an application). Since Pre-72 Sound Recordings are not currently protected under U.S. Copyright Law, there is no procedure for filing a copyright application or a way to sue for copyright infringement in federal court.

The MMA Legislation does not go so far as to allow or require a copyright registration to be filed for the Pre-72 Sound Recordings.  Infringement remedies found in Sections 502-505 of the Copyright Act may be applicable if “the rights owner [files] with the Copyright Office a schedule that specifies the title, artist, and rights owner of the sound recording and contains such other information, as practicable, as the Register of Copyrights prescribes by regulation; and the transmission is made after the end of the 90-day period beginning on the date on which the information filed under subclause (I) is indexed into the public records of the Copyright Office.”

Questions and Concerns with the CLASSICS Act Portion of the MMA Legislation:

I’m concerned with how the Copyright Office recording provision will be implemented. This could be a very burdensome process on the Pre-72 Sound Recording owners.  And, what about the less sophisticated Pre-72 Sound Recording owners that may not even know that they need to comply with this provision?

The U.S. Register of Copyright will be required to implement the recordation procedure. The U.S. Copyright Office has suffered repeatedly from technology challenges and this seems like one more technology hurdle to overcome.

Next Steps For the MMA Legislation:

The MMA Legislation, which includes the AMP Act, the CLASSICS Act, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, and a songwriter-specific version of the Music Modernization Act, is in the hands of the U.S. Senate.  Hopefully the bi-partisan treatment in the House will continue as the Senate committee starts its review.